First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 7, No. 1 September 2006
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy
By Dr. Bruce Prescott
The combined effect of engraving both the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments on the same monument, as was done at the courthouse in Haskell County Oklahoma, is to give a very strong endorsement of a theocratic form of governance.
Comprehending the full strength of that endorsement requires a review of the history of Puritan and Separatist Christianity, of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and of the struggle for religious liberty in colonial America.
sixteenth century several movements sprang up in England hoping to reform the
Church of England. Most called for a return to the simple teachings and
practices of the Bible. The most influential and militant group was the Puritans
who were deeply influenced by John Calvin and the reform of the church that he
instituted in Geneva, Switzerland. They were called "Puritans" because they
insisted on purity of doctrine and practice in the church.
lineage of the Pilgrims' congregation was a Separatist congregation that was
formed in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire around 1606. John Smyth became its leader.
The congregation grew so rapidly that the large size of the gathering made it
dangerous to meet. The congregation divided. Smyth continued to lead the
congregation that remained at Gainsborough. Another congregation formed at
Scrooby Manor. John Robinson became that congregation's pastor. By 1608 both
congregations had fled to Holland to escape persecution. Smyth's congregation
settled in Amsterdam. Robinson's congregation settled for a time in Leyden. From
Holland both the history of Separatism and the way that Separatist congregations
came to relate to government diverged. Sometimes the differences were bitter.
Both sides of the division had an influence on American history.
Historically, as Massachusetts was colonized, the center of power and the most important settlements developed at Salem and Boston around the Massachusetts Bay. Under their system of law and jurisprudence, Baptists, Quakers and other religious dissenters were severely persecuted.
For example, in the
summer of 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall, and Obadiah Holmes -- all members of
the Baptist Church at Newport, Rhode Island -- were arrested and imprisoned for
holding an unauthorized worship service in the home of a blind Baptist named
William Witter who lived at Lynn, Massachusetts outside Boston. They were
sentenced to be fined or whipped. Fines for Clarke and Crandall were paid by
friends. Holmes refused to let friends pay his fine and was publicly whipped on
the streets of Boston on September 6, 1651. In 1653, Henry Dunster, the first
president of Harvard University, refused to have his fourth child baptized as an
infant and proclaimed that only believers should be baptized. He was forced to
resign from his position and banished from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1663,
John Myles moved an entire Baptist congregation from Wales to escape the
religious persecutions authorized by England's 1662 Act of Uniformity. They
first settled in Massachusetts, but by 1667 the authorities forced the
congregation to move to the frontier in Rhode Island.
Theocratic governance of Massachusetts began with the signing of the Mayflower Compact. Those who signed the Compact covenanted to "enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony." In their eyes, the most "just and equal laws" were those that God gave Moses. In simplest terms, they were covenanting to live together under biblical law as summarized by the Ten Commandments. In practice, all of the commandments were enforced, including the first four commandments regarding worship.
Persecution of Quakers
In July 1656 the ship Swallow anchored in Boston Harbor. It became known quickly that on board were two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, who had shipped from Barbados. The authorities moved swiftly. The women were kept on ship while their belongings were searched and more than one hundred books confiscated. Although there was as yet no law against Quakers in Massachusetts, the two were hurried off to jail, stripped of all their clothing, and inspected for tokens of witchcraft. After five weeks, the captain of the Swallow was placed under a £100 bond to carry them back to Barbados.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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